What Were Apprenticeships Like In the Past?

blacksmith working at an anvil

If you were living in medieval Britain, what would your apprenticeship be like? One thing’s for sure, it would almost nothing like an apprenticeship in the 21st century! Those who take on said apprenticeships often wonder what their chosen career path was like in the past.

Medieval to 1900

Apprenticeships can be traced all the way back to the middle ages where craftsmen such as blacksmiths took on young men and boys to become a skilled craftsman in themselves. This originated from the upper class sending their children to live with host families.

Things remained largely unchanged until the Tudor period, meaning conditions were rather poor for the apprentices. This all changed when the Statute of Apprenticeships was introduced, allowing a minimum standard of work which can be likened to the apprenticeship standards of today.

The law was repealed 251 years later due to the decline of popularity in apprenticeships during the 19th century. This was done due to a perceived exploitation of young people in poor conditions in newly built factories.

20th Century

Through much of the early 20th century, apprenticeships seemed to thrive somewhat as new industries emerged due to many technological advancements. This growth continued throughout both World Wars and by the 1960s, around 33% of boys left school to become apprentices.

Not much else was changed throughout the century in terms of any serious reforms or new laws, and because of this employers were incredibly cynical of the system, believing many apprentices emerged without much skill in their trade.

As a result, apprenticeships met a slow decline until, by 1995, there were half as many people taking on apprenticeships as there were in 1979. In 1993, however, a new government scheme called ‘Modern Apprenticeships’ was introduced, allowing apprentices to be treated as employees and paid a wage and work towards earning an NVQ.

By the end of 1998, apprentices had taken the country by storm and a quarter-million people in England and Wales were enrolling.

21st Century

In the early 2000s, modern apprenticeships formed the framework which will become the apprenticeship programmes we know of today. New standards have come into force which has significantly improved upon what was already in place.

Since the 2010 election, apprenticeships have been more popular than ever, with different tiers of qualification and new standards set in 2012 making it a viable alternative as a career path. All apprenticeships last a minimum of a year and apprentices don’t have to be from rich families to take them on.

If you’re interested in taking on an apprenticeship, check out our apprenticeship page here at GET.